A will is a legally binding testamentary document that follows specific rules that have the purpose of directing who will receive your assets when you die. The will also appoints a person to legally carry out your wishes, this person is generally called an executor or a personal representative.
The administration of your will is carried out in the process called probate. A will is a written testimony to the judge that instructs as to how your assets should be managed after your death.
The will only controls property that is subject to probate. This generally means property held in your own name, property held as tenants in common, or in California, community property. These types of properties may include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, and personal property held in your name only.
There are several forms of property ownership that will not be controlled by the provisions of the will. These types of ownership include joint tenancy, community property with right of survivorship, life estate, “pay-on-death accounts” and assets that transfer by beneficiary designations such as life insurance policies, annuities, Retirement Plans, IRAs or 401(k) plans. One of the best methods of avoiding the probate process is to transfer your property into a living trust.
Distributing property through the terms of your will is better than dying Intestate, which is the term used to describe people who die without creating a testamentary plan.
However, property that is controlled by your will has to be transferred to your beneficiaries through the probate process and in California that is a lengthy, public, and expensive procedure.