What Happens If I Die Without an Estate Plan?

The legal term for dying without an Estate Plan in place is called “intestacy” and if you do that, your next of kin will inherit whatever you leave behind.  The rules that govern how your assets are distributed may or may not be in line with your preferences.

For instance, if you leave behind a spouse or registered domestic partner and a child, some of your estate may go directly to your child – probably not what most people have in mind while their spouse or domestic partner is still living.  If you have no spouse or domestic partner and no children, your next of kin are your parents, and after them your siblings.

If you live with someone to whom you are not married or registered, that person is not legally entitled to receive any of your estate automatically and must file a lawsuit to enforce any claims they may have.  If you create an Estate Plan you get to designate who receives your assets and in the event of a dispute, the law supports your absolute right to make this decision.

What Documents Are Included In An Estate Plan?

A basic Estate Plan includes a Will, Powers of Attorney for Asset Management, an Advance Health Care Directive and, when there are minor children, a Guardianship Nomination.   If you have children, you should also create a contingency plan for their temporary care until a Guardian can be appointed in the event you are seriously injured or die.  If you own a home or have minor children you probably also need a Trust and documents to ensure that your assets are properly transferred into your Trust.

What Is The Benefit Of Having A Trust?

There are three basic reasons to create and fund a trust in California.  First, it will help keep your estate from being administered in a formal court proceeding called “probate”.  Probate proceedings are entirely public, needlessly expensive and time consuming – it generally takes about a year to complete and the fees are set by statute to be a percentage of the total gross value of all the property and cash in your estate.

Second, if you have children or wish to leave your estate to other young family members a Trust allows you to create a plan so the money isn’t just handed to them when they turn 18.  You can plan for funding their education and delaying the distribution of their inheritance until they’ve reached an age where they are more likely to spend the money wisely.  Finally, if a trust is administered properly your estate can achieve some significant tax savings – leaving more for your heirs and less for the IRS.

How Do I Get Started?

It’s easy to get started with creating your Estate Plan.  Simply contact our office for a no cost, no obligation appointment to discuss your specific circumstances with one of our attorneys.   We will send you a helpful planning questionnaire that you can start working on before the appointment.  During the appointment we will answer any questions you have, go over your options and help you identify the right Estate Plan for you.

So, How Much Will This Cost?

Until we know your circumstances – who is in your family, who you want to plan for and whether they have any special needs, your own personal goals, how you want your health care managed if you can’t do it yourself, and what kind of assets you have, we can’t quote a fee.   However, at the end of our meeting after we identify exactly what you need in your personal Estate Plan, we will quote a fee for our services.  Then we will send you on your way to think about our discussion and we will mail or email you a fee agreement.

After you have had time to think about your Estate Plan, you can simply return the signed fee agreement, your completed planning questionnaire and a deposit and we’ll get to work. To get started, simply pick up the phone and give us a call or use our contact form to get in touch.