People accumulate property during their lives, and something must be done with that property after death. The entirety of your property is called your “estate.” Even if you don’t own much property, you still have an estate. To determine what happens to your estate, you should write a will.
Wills Provide Peace of Mind
A will is an essential part of your estate planning. It determines what happens to your property after you die. You can make it as broad as you want. The will can say, “All my property should be sold, and the money should be divided equally among my wife and children.” You can also make your will very specific, saying, “My button collection goes to my friend Dave.”
By writing a will, you know that your property will go where it belongs. This is helpful on a personal, emotional level. You may have treasured belongings that you want in the right hands. A will can ensure that the things you love will be cared for by someone you trust.
A will also secures the future of your loved ones. If your estate is sizable, you can leave it with the right people, providing for them and their future. Without a will, you have no control over what happens to your estate after you pass, and your assets fall into intestate succession.
Wills Avoid Intestate Succession
When someone dies without a will, their assets are distributed by the state through intestate succession. This is a very specific chain of people who are given your property.
California’s intestate succession is as follows:
- If you were married and had no children, your spouse receives all your assets.
- If you were married and had children, your community (or “marital”) assets go to your spouse. You separate property is divided among your spouse and your children.
- If there is one child, your separate assets are split among your spouse and your child, 50/50.
- If there is more than one child, your spouse receives 1/3 of your separate assets. The remaining 2/3 is split equally among the children.
- If you were not married and had children, your children receive all your assets.
- If you had more than one child, they each receive an equal portion of the assets.
- If one of your children died before you, and they had children, their share is distributed among those children (your grandchildren).
- If you were not married and had no children, all your assets go to your next, “closest” relative. From first to last, those relatives are:
- Cousins and so forth; the list continues from here
- If you were not married, had no children, and had no living close relatives, all your assets go to the state.
Looking at this chain of succession, it seems fair and well thought-out. Many of us can see this list and say, “That makes sense.”
In our modern world, however, this chain does not work for many people. Perhaps someone is estranged from their close relatives. Many people have a network of friends they consider their “family,” and they have little contact with their blood relatives. Maybe you had an aunt who raised you like a mother, and you had little connection to your biological parents. Perhaps you had the same romantic partner all through your adult life, but you were never officially wed.
Intestate succession does not take these scenarios into account. It assumes that blood relatives are close, and they have claim to one another’s property. To ensure that your property goes to the people who deserve it most, you need a will.
Talk to a Lawyer
Wills can be challenged by your surviving loved ones. People can argue over who deserved what, and they can even sue the executor, the person distributing your assets. It is true that you can write your own will, but that is not advisable. You should secure the services of a lawyer skilled in estate planning. Legal language is often challenged in court, especially when it is imprecise. A good attorney can help make sure the language in your will is solid. Good legal language can help ensure that your wishes will not be challenged, and your property will go where it belongs.
If you need help drafting a will, contact us today. Our experience can help make sure your wishes are carried out properly. You can call us at (916) 299-3936 or contact us online.