Generally simple wills are used only in the movies. The family gathers around the lawyer’s conference room table and the lawyer “reads” the will, right!? We have all seen it. The only un-true thing that happens more in movies, relating to someone dying, is they have a video of the person who died (as in the movie Brewster’s Millions). In real life, at least in California, there is no reading of the will and usually no video made either. Plus, most people use a revocable living trust as the centerpiece for their estate plan. However, that’s not to say the simple will is dead… so to speak.
Though we do not do a lot of wills, as the main estate planning document, there are times when simple wills will suffice. Typically it’s for small estates and typically for simple transfers. However, a will is a totally legally binding document and thus can still be used.
Of course if you have a living trust you will have a “pour over” will. That’s the will that says everything “pours” into your trust, after death, if it wasn’t already there. Hopefully all your assets are in your trust before death so that you don’t have to use the pour over will!
However, there are other cases where the old fashioned will still works great. The will is good for distributing your personal property (furniture, jewelry, cars, etc…) and also a place to name a guardian for your kids. Also, it can be a place to cement, in writing, who should get the bulk of your assets which is particularly important if you want to give your assets to someone that is not your “natural” next of kin. Possibly you want to give your estate to a significant other who you are not married to or the son or daughter of a close friend. In those cases a simple will is needed!
Again, a simple will is probably not better than a trust for people that have more significant assets (i.e. any real estate or other assets exceeding $100,000) but a simple will is just fine for a lot of people! It still may require a visit to the probate Court though so make sure you talk to your attorney about your options.
When you get a will you should probably also get a power of attorney for financial affairs (often called a “Durable Power of Attorney”) and also a living will or “Health Care Declaration.” We sometimes do a “nomination of guardian” also as a seperate document. You can also do a Hippa release to help with the ease of medical information release.
Contact me with questions. -John