The Power of Planning (Wills and Trusts)

We’ve all heard stories of bereaved relatives, surprised by a strange Last Will and Testament scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper, tucked into a random drawer somewhere in the house. Over the years, these stories surface to amuse us (due to the lack of planning and surprise of relatives who discover they have inherited small fortunes) or to warn us (in the case of contested estates that are hung up in court for years).

There is really no need to neglect these aspects of estate planning. It’s easy enough to meet up with an attorney, discuss your wishes, and draw up the appropriate legal documents. Doing so will give you peace of mind, knowing that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes. You might also be comforted to know that your loved ones will avoid a long, difficult legal ordeal.

One of the first decisions you will make, with regard to estate planning, is whether to establish a Will or a Trust. The primary difference between the two is that a Will takes effect upon your death, while a Trust begins on the day you create it.

With a Will, you leave directions for the distribution of assets after your death. For example, you might want to leave your bank accounts to your spouse, your beach house to the children, and various items to friends or other relatives. After your death, these assets will be distributed as directed. You might also wish to leave instructions for your burial, designate guardianship for children or pets, and state other final wishes.

A Trust, on the other hand, can be used to distribute property before your death, after death, or at some other point in the future. A trustee (a bank, law firm, or other organization) holds legal title to property placed in the trust. The beneficiaries of your choosing can receive income from that trust, or the entirety of the property at a time of your choosing.

So should you choose a Will or a Trust? That depends upon many factors, but consider this: A Will passes through probate, with a court ensuring that the Will is valid, and then overseeing the administration of the document. A Trust is not subject to the probate process, so your assets can pass directly to heirs while bypassing the complicated, difficult court procedures. A Trust can also be kept private, whereas everything that passes through probate court will be part of public records.

Wills and Trusts each come with distinct advantages and disadvantages, and there is no single solution that is right for everyone. Discuss your needs and concerns with an estate planning attorney, and he or she can help guide you toward the legal process that suits your situation.

Join us on March 15th at the Temecula Valley Hospital from 6-8pm for a screening of the PBS Frontline Documentary “Being Mortal”. This documentary is based on the end of life experiences of several patients and addresses the importance of talking about end-of-life care goals with your family and medical providers.

Following the film we will have a Q&A session led by Laurence Boggeln, Chief of Staff of Temecula Valley Hospital and Leslee B. Cochrane, MD., Executive Medical Director for Hospice of the Valleys who will be available to interact with the audience and answer questions. During the event we will also be distributing a complimentary copy of “Five Wishes” to attendees. “Five Wishes” is a living will, valid under California state law that talks about your personal, emotional and spiritual needs, as well as your medical wishes. The do-it-yourself format is simple and easy to use and enables you to complete your Health Care Directive   in the privacy of your own home

For more information please visit Hospice of the Valleys’ website at for future screenings.


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