Preparing a will is one of those things which many people put on their “to do” list but never seem to get done. The reason could be something as simple as believing you will eventually get around to it or not believing you have enough assets for it to matter. However, if you end up passing away without a will, you leave important decisions about what will happen to your family up to California law.
Generally, when someone dies without a will, their estate will have to go through probate. Probate is the legal process which allows for the deceased person’s property to be passed on to their heirs and for debts to be paid from the estate. Probate can take several months or even more than a year. During the time your estate is in probate, your surviving family members may have to wait to have access to your accounts and other property.
California Guardianship of Minor Children
If there is a surviving parent who has full custodial rights, he or she will become the only parent of a child when the other dies. The problem is when there is not another parent or legal guardian in place when the parent passes away. In this circumstance, the probate court will have to appoint a legal guardian for any minor children. Unless there is another formal legal document in place, parents who die without a will are essentially leaving no direction for the probate court to decide who will become their child’s guardian.
California Intestate Succession
Intestate succession is the legal term for the order in which your property will be awarded to your survivors. California law allows property to pass to specific heirs in a pre-determined order. For instance, if a spouse survives you, he or she may inherit your half of the assets which you acquired as a married couple. However, if you had separate property, or property which you had before you married or legally belongs only to you, all of these assets may pass to your spouse if you did not have any children, your parents are gone as well, and you do not have any siblings, and there are no children of any deceased sibling. If any of these relatives are alive however, your spouse will have to divide your property with them in a manner prescribed by law. If you had children but no spouse, your kids would inherit equally. These are just a few of the rules which concern relatives who may be in line to inherit from your estate.
Having a will can give you the peace of mind of knowing that your affairs will be handled according to your preferences rather than by law. At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we have experience with California estate planning and can help you evaluate your situation and make informed decisions about the future. Schedule a free consultation today. /