Should one survey Los Angeles residents regarding what documents are needed to complete their estate planning, the most prevalent (and likely only) response will probably be a will. While a will may often be the centerpiece of a person’s estate planning portfolio, it is by no means the only article needed to effectively manage and administer an estate. Indeed, information shared by Forbes Magazine lists only relying on a will as the most common estate planning mistake most make. Advance medical directives, power of attorney and trusts articles are among the more well-known documents many use to supplement their estate planning. One might even rely on elements outside his or her will to dictate how his or her assets are to be dispersed. 

Section 6132 of California’s Probate Code states that writings or documents outside of a will can be used to determine how tangible estate property is to be dealt with. However, certain criteria must be met in order for this to happen. These criteria include: 

  • The writings or documents in question being specifically referenced by a decedent’s will
  • The writings or documents describing the referenced property and the people designated as intended recipients with reasonable clarity 
  • The writings or documents being dated and either signed or witnesses as being in the handwriting of the decedent 

The only assets whose disbursement cannot be stipulated by sources outside of a will are currency and property currently being used by a business. 

A testator can also make the disbursement of his or her property contingent on actions or events whose significance goes beyond the impact they have on the estate. An example might be the marriage of a beneficiary, where a related will stipulates that said beneficiary’s interest in an estate may change if he or she marries.