July 2009 Archives

July 5, 2009

Wills v. Trusts (and Michael Jackson)

This week, Michael Jackson's will was filed in the probate court. It was surprising, actually, that someone with his assets died with only a will. In California, it is common for those with property (even just a home) to create a living trust so that their assets will pass to their heirs without the cost and delay of a probate proceeding.

There are times, though, when probate can be an appropriate place to settle an estate, and Michael Jackson's might be the poster child for these cases -- when there are messy creditor claims to sort out. Like a bankruptcy court, a probate proceeding is place where creditors and their claims (and we won't even mention the guardianship issues being raised right now) can be sorted out by a court, in a set period of time and with finality.

The AP has published a good article if you're trying to sort out whether a will or trust makes more sense for your family. Briefly, though, if you live in a state (like California) where probate is expensive and time-consuming, if you want to leave everything to your kids, if you own a home, and if you don't have complex credit issues, a trust is generally a great long-term investment.

For practical, straightforward recommendations on estate planning options, see The Mom's Guide to Will and Estate Planning, by Liza Hanks (Nolo).