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Wills and Trusts

Wills and Trusts are written documents that specify where your assets and belongings will go after you die.

If you choose to use a will, you will identify who gets what and then a court will oversee the process of distributing your property according to your wishes. This process is called probate. In California, if your assets are worth more than $150,000, probate is likely to be a long and expensive process. It is also public -- i.e., anyone may be able to see the terms of your will.

If you choose to use a trust, your property typically is distributed according to the terms of your trust without the involvement of a court. Many people in California choose a trust over a will because property usually transfers faster under a trust. A trust also is likely to cost less to administer than a will. In addition, the terms of a trust generally are not available to the general public.

Wills and trusts differ in another important way. When someone inherits under a will, s/he receives the asset outright. That means that the recipient can use the asset in any way s/he wants. (For example, people who inherit money under a will very often use that money to buy an expensive car.) When you create a trust, however, you can design it so that someone who receives money does so with certain conditions upon it -- e.g., that s/he use the money only for health, education, and welfare, or that s/he not use the money to buy an expensive car.

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