1. Keep your will up to date. Your life circumstances have probably changed since you first drafted your Last Will and Testament. Be sure to consult with your estate planning attorney regularly to make sure your document reflects changes to estate tax and other laws.
2. Make sure at least a few different people in your family know where to find your will when you die. Do not make the common mistake of tucking your will away in a safe deposit box. Bank safety deposit boxes can be sealed upon your death, and then no one will have the access necessary to gather the documents they will need to settle your estate.
3. Choose your executor/personal representative with care. It is wise to choose someone who is not likely to die before you. It is also best to choose someone who is responsible, honest and fair. Be sure to ask him or her to be your executor before you die; do not assume that they want the title. It is also imperative that you have a back-up executor/personal representative in case your first choice in unavailable at the time of your death, as an executor/personal representative must meet a standard set by California probate laws to be appointed by the court.
4. Don’t contradict yourself. To avoid legal battles, make sure your will does not contradict the beneficiaries named on your retirement fund or other payable-on-death accounts.
5. Plan for the worst. Provide a back-up guardian for your minor children in case your first choice has already died. Even if they are still alive, circumstances could make it impossible for him or her to take care of your children. Also, think about where assets should go if your first choice has already died. You may not want a child’s ex-spouse to have a share of your estate.
6. Be explicit. Do not necessarily leave everything to your spouse if you want your children to inherit as well. Many circumstances can occur that would leave nothing for your children. For example, if a surviving spouse remarries, the new spouse may be the rightful heir to the surviving spouse’s estate. If you want to disinherit a child, you must mention that desire explicitly because in many cases, a child not named in a will may still get a share of the inheritance since the probate court will not know if you accidentally excluded that child.
7. Be clear about who gets valuable and sentimental items. It is not necessary to make a list of who should have every last one of your possessions, but consider giving those little things away while you are still alive.
8. Get professional help. An estate planning attorney experienced in these common pitfalls can help you draft a solid California Last Will and Testament. Contact our Orange County law firm to learn more.