What are the big no-nos in making a will in CA?

Video Transcript

The ironic thing is most of our clients, when they ask us about doing a will, obviously, when people think about a document that's going to pass assets onto my heirs, they think about a will. And the reality is most people that have a will, if they do everything they're supposed to do in order to avoid probate — like if they only have financial assets, the ironic thing is if they have financial accounts, they typically will name beneficiaries in that account so that when they pass, that money goes directly to those beneficiaries, which means if everything's being done right and you have a will, the only thing that's really passing to the will is personal items.

So you know, quite ironically, most of the time we do wills for our clients, the goal is for very little to pass through the wills. Now, you know, for those clients that don't want to do a trust, maybe they have minor children, so in the will we will name backup guardians for the kids. But the reality is that if things are passing through the will, bank accounts where there's no beneficiary or a house, it will go to probate, because that's what probate is. Probate is a process where a will is proven, because a will by itself cannot transfer assets.

And that's what people think, you know, if I have a valid will, that it avoids probate. Actually no, probate is what will allow that will and the terms of the will to be executed. In the probate process, they will nominate, the will will nominate an executor, and that person has authority to deal with the assets. But to get that authority through the will, and this is why we typically don't recommend just wills to most of our clients, is it's going to cost their family tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees to get the will through the probate process.

But beyond that, like I said, you know, a will is better than nothing, and in a handful of occasions, not often, but you know, our clients do need a judge to serve as a referee, and so that's an instance where a will might be needed. But we're not doing wills because A) a lot of times not much is really passing to them if they're going to assign beneficiaries on their accounts, or B) you know, they do the will to pass the assets, and it does, you know, does some things to a trust but it doesn't avoid probate, and that's going to cost their family tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.