What Happens When There Is No Will?

When a family member dies without a will, it is referred to as dying “intestate.” A whole section of probate law is devoted to intestate situations. This law predicts what most people would want to happen to their assets at death. For example, California’s intestate laws predict that the property a married person obtained during a marriage should go to the spouse of that marriage. Similarly, children receive equal shares of a single parent’s estate if no will exists.

Wills are favored because intestate estates are supervised by the long and sometimes arduous probate system. They are also essential for families that do not relate in the ways the state has determined to be “typical.” Some spouses prefer their assets go directly to their children. Warren Buffet’s estate plan opts to direct the majority of his assets to charity rather than permitting his children live like kings. Everyone’s situation is different and this is why intestate succession rarely, if ever, recommended.

Certain technical terms are used in the intestate system. The term “issue” refers to a person’s children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren. “Community property” refers to property obtained during a marriage while “separate property” is property brought into the marriage. What is considered community and separate property can be muddled at times. Combining community and separate property can make what was once separate into community property. A surviving spouse receives a portion of the separate property in addition to the entire community property unless there is a will.

Occasionally, someone will enjoy the fact that the intestate system disposes of property according to his or her preferences without a will. Be wary of this type of thinking. Life is more complicated than we tend to imagine and car accidents, unforeseeable periods of disability, and financial stresses quickly disrupt the assumptions of an intestate estate plan. Although difficult to confront, families that have experienced these troubles know the benefits of a plan with their family’s needs in mind. Estate planning also addresses many questions that arise during a person’s life including tax, health care, and asset protection.

If you have questions about wills or estate planning, feel free to contact us at (626) 696-3145.

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