Wills & Trusts: Planning for “What if…” (Part 2 of 4)

This is a continuation of last week’s informational post on Wills and Trusts, a Q&A with Steve Araiza, a lawyer in West L.A.

Steve Araiza is a work-from-home dad that says his primary job is taking care of his one year old daughter, Isla.  But when he’s not wrangling a toddler he spends his spare time preparing estate plans.  He graduated from UCLA Law in 2009 with a specialization in business law, specifically focusing on taxation.  After graduating from law school, he worked with Southern California Edison until Isla came along and decided to build his own legal practice.  You can find him online at www.thinktrusts.com

Disclosure: While Steve Araiza is a lawyer, he is not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship. 

Q.  Regarding a will, what is valid in the state of California?  What is the difference (if any) between using a lawyer, online legal document preparation services, software, or writing it yourself on a piece of paper?

A.

As I said earlier, a will is just a document that lays out what your wishes are if you should die.  The way that you create your will is your choice, but what you want at the end of the day is a document that will be considered valid during the probate process.  I can’t really speak to wills from other sources, but obviously when you’re dealing with legal code, that you may not be familiar with, it never hurts to talk to someone who understands those codes, and that’s where an attorney comes in.  I also can’t speak for every attorney, but from what I’ve seen, wills drafted by an attorney can start at about $500 and a trust can cost from $1600 to $3000 depending on complexity.  But, these documents, if drafted correctly the first time, can save a lot of time and hassle for your beneficiaries.  After that, the process of updating or amending a will or trust should be more affordable as long as there hasn’t been a major change in the law or in your personal or financial situation.


On the subject of handwritten wills, if you have no other choice because of finances or because you’re leaving on a trip tomorrow and you want to feel secure, then California and many other states, do recognize something called a holographic (handwritten) will.

Here are the important points in a writing a holographic will in California:

  1. It needs to be completely written in your own handwriting — no typing it up
  2. It needs to be signed
  3. It should be dated

Keep in mind that if you have another will already and you leave a holographic will behind — the document with the later date will control to the extent that the two documents conflict.  It’s also important to understand that a holographic will can have unintended consequences, so I would only recommend such a will be drafted by someone who has no other option.  And if you have drafted such a will it’s important that you mention and show it to any attorney you hire to work on an estate plan for you in the future.

California also provides a “fill-in-the-blanks” will form, that you can find here (http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/publications/Will-Form.pdf)
But, it is obviously somewhat limited as far as flexibility goes.

In general, I don’t want to say that the DIY approach is wrong for everyone.  If you’re young, and want to make sure that a few keepsakes and minor assets go to the people you want them too, then a DIY approach may make complete sense.  But, once you have kids, I would recommend sitting down with someone that really knows the law.  It’s kind of like an accountant, if all you have to worry about come tax season is uploading your W2s then there’s software for that — but if you have a business and some stocks, and your financial situation is a little more complex, then it might be worth seeing an accountant.

Special Thanks to Steve Araiza for contributing to this post.  Please visit him online at thinktrusts.com
Check-in next week for part 3 of this series!