A last will and testament prepared and executed in California is a legal instrument that generally disposes of one's assets after death. The will is an instrument that does not become legally operative until the testator dies. While still alive, the testator can make changes or modifications, or he or she may invalidate an existing will and make up a new one. Estate planning is a process in which wills and other legal instruments are used to create an interrelated web of legal mandates to control one's assets while alive and after death.
The testator has the discretion of how to divide up the estate assets. All beneficiaries can be equally treated, separately treated or otherwise dealt with by the testator depending on circumstances and on the testator's personal wishes. If a beneficiary is a minor, a trust can be designated in a will and the terms of distribution will be set forth therein. The testator may also use the will to provide for charitable causes and to make small or large gifts, as desired.
The main controller and administrative person with authority over the will is the appointed personal representative, or executor. The testator will benefit by appointing someone who is organized and has the skills to manage the proceeds, pay the bills, perform all administrative requirements and handle the final distributions. When the testator dies, the personal representative takes the will to the county court house and enters it for probate. The representative will take an oath and proceed to carry out the various details of the will.
The last will and testament in California as elsewhere does not necessarily apply to all of the testator's assets. For example, where the testator owns real estate jointly with the right of survivorship the property will pass by operation of law to the surviving joint owner at death. Retirement and investment accounts, life insurance and other types of accounts pass to the designated beneficiary listed therein and are not controlled by the will. Consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney is a good place to start when one is interested in starting an estate plan.