Having a will may seem unnecessary, especially when you don’t have children or numerous assets. However, in many situations, not having a will can create problems for your friends and family that could have been easily avoided.
When you die without a will, your estate will be distributed according to California’s intestate succession laws. These laws determine the order in which your property will be distributed to specific heirs. If you fail to create a will or other testamentary document, you will not have any choice as to who receives your possessions. If, for example, you have something of sentimental value you intended your best friend to inherit, he or she will not be legally entitled to the property. Unless your estate is valued under a certain amount, anything in it that does not transfer by some other means when you die will have to go through probate. Additionally, if you leave a pet behind without directions regarding who should assume ownership, he or she could end up in an uncertain position.
Only assets that would have passed through another means can avoid probate. For example, if you have a bank account with a payable-upon-death (POD) provision, the account funds can be paid out to a named individual. Life insurance, 401(k), IRA, or other retirement account proceeds will be paid to named beneficiaries outside of probate. Real property that you own in a joint tenancy or with your spouse with survivorship will pass to the surviving owners. Assets with transfer-upon-death (TOD) provisions and property that has been placed into a valid trust will also avoid probate. While some of these measures are commonplace, a legal device such as a trust should be created with the guidance and assistance of an estate planning attorney. If a trust is prepared improperly, assets placed there could end up in the probate estate.
One of the best ways to ensure that your assets are directed to the people you want is by leaving clear instructions in a will. A will also allows you to name a personal representative who will be responsible for seeing that your final wishes are carried out. Another reason to have a will is that it spares your loved ones the stress and burden of having to make decisions and manage probate court issues during a difficult time. Additionally, unlike intestate succession, having a will means that you control what happens to your property.
Planning for your estate is one of the most important tasks you will complete. For that reason, it is essential to plan with the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney who can help prepare your will and other estate planning documents. At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are knowledgeable and experienced California estate planning attorneys with the experience you need to make informed decisions for your future. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.