Estate planning is one task many people tend to put off indefinitely. When one puts it off for too long and passes away before making a will and other provisions, such as trusts, the probate court distributes the estate’s assets in accordance with California’s intestacy laws.
Although intestacy laws generally aim at fairness in distributing the assets to the decedent’s closest relatives, they cannot even come close to effectively substituting for a well-considered estate plan that takes into account the individual’s specific circumstances, and those of his or her family. For this reason, it is important to begin thinking carefully about how to distribute the estate long before these plans are likely to become necessary.
Basics of intestate succession
If a decedent was married at the time of death, all community property goes to the surviving spouse. Generally, community property consists of assets acquired during the marriage, except for gifts and inheritances intended particularly for one of the spouses, or property owned by the decedent before the marriage and kept separate.
If the decedent leaves no children, all the separate property goes to the spouse as well. When there are surviving children, the administrator appointed by the probate court distributes separate property among the spouse and the surviving children.
If there is no surviving spouse, the children share the entire estate equally. When there are no children either, the estate goes to the parents, and in their absence, to siblings or their descendants. After that, distribution travels back to surviving grandparents or the closest surviving descendants.
Guardian for minor children
Wills can not only designate the distribution of assets but also appoint a guardian for minor children. When a sole parent dies without a will, or both parents die at once, it falls to the court to appoint a guardian. Typically, the court looks for close relatives who are willing and qualified to raise the children.
If an individual owns a complex asset such as a business, leaving it out of the estate planning can have serious consequences that can be hard to foresee. Drafting a will and other appropriate instruments can help the business owner control what happens to the assets after death so that they continue to benefit loved ones according to his or her wishes.