If you have substantial assets but have not made a will, now is the time to plan ahead. Preparing your estate plan with the help of an attorney gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out after you pass away. Even if you are nowhere close to retirement, take this opportunity to plan and save your relatives time and trouble later.
Estate planning, including making a will, saves relatives time and trouble because you have explained how to distribute your assets after your death. If you do not leave a will or place your assets in a trust, your relatives will have to go to probate court, search for all the property you owned, and give the court time to decide how to distribute it. While the estates of many people with high net worth or many assets have to go through probate anyway, having a will and other key documents in place speeds up the process.
When you die without a will, lawyers call it dying “intestate”. To figure out who will inherit all the assets an intestate person owned at his or her death, the court must (1) determine which relatives survived the intestate person, (2) locate all the assets, and (3) apply the order of intestate succession. The order of intestate succession is the order in which relatives inherit. It is established by California law. For example, if the deceased person’s spouse survived her and she had no children or any other relatives, the spouse will inherit everything. If there is a spouse and two living children, the spouse will inherit one-third of the estate and the children will each take one-third. It gets more complicated if you have more relatives in different generations who are living.
People who do not make wills and have no other estate plan have no control over who will inherit their wealth. The court simply applies intestate succession, and those heirs get the assets. For people who have a high net worth, the consequences could be surprising. Any estranged relatives still get included in the intestate succession order. If you have a blended family, some relatives could be totally disinherited even though they are important to you. Further, you could be saddling your relatives with expensive tax bills, practical difficulties such as selling off your personal property, and more. Probate fees can be extremely expensive without any estate plan.
If you do not feel you have a high net worth or substantial assets, that does not mean you should forget about making a will. Wills and estate planning are for anyone who wants to protect their family and have their wishes carried out.
If you have a high net worth and no estate plan, find a California attorney today to help you. You can look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience and her certification as a California estate planning and probate specialist by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.