Have you ever wondered what happens to your assets after you pass away, especially if you haven’t set up an estate plan or will? When you pass away, your assets typically go through probate. This involves validating the will in court and then proceeding to distribute the remaining property as outlined in your will.
However, if you pass away without a will or an estate plan, the state law dictates how your assets are distributed.
Legal descent and distribution
In California, the law of intestate succession sets the rules for who gets your assets in the absence of a will. It all depends on relationships and the degree of kinship. For instance, your spouse and children are one “degree” away from you, while your parents or siblings are two “degrees” away. This “degree” system is how the state measures your relationships and determines who should inherit your assets if you didn’t leave a will following your passing.
In the context of intestate succession in California, only assets solely in the deceased’s name undergo probate. Some assets, like property in a living trust or funds in retirement accounts, bypass probate and are not subject to intestate laws. These assets directly go to the named beneficiary or co-owner, with or without a will in place. However, if you do not name a beneficiary or co-owner, or if they die before you, these assets may go through probate and be subject to the law of intestate succession.
Why estate planning is important
So, when dividing up your belongings, the state starts with those closest to you, like your spouse and children. If you don’t have a spouse or children, the assets move to your parents, then siblings and so on. However, this process might not align with your wishes for how to distribute your assets after your death. So, establishing an estate plan is essential. It allows you to determine how your assets are distributed, giving you the power to shape your legacy.
Remember, without an estate plan, the state takes over the decision-making. The last time you considered your estate plan might have more impact than you think, emphasizing the importance of planning ahead.