Estate planning entails far more than writing a will. For many people, an estate plan is a way to put the wealth, possessions, and assets they accrued in life to good use after they die. While most folks will name their children or a spouse as first-priority beneficiaries, people who do not have any apparent heir should still take steps to protect their assets and ensure their legacy.
What Happens When You Die Without an Estate Plan
If you die without a will, a trust, or any other estate protection measures, you put the totality of your life’s work into the hands of a California court.
California has special probate laws for people who die without an estate plan. When someone passes away without a will or other safeguards in place, they are said to have died “intestate.”
Intestate proceedings go through probate. If you did not name any prospective heirs or beneficiaries, the state will use a special formula to decide who will receive your home, your car, and other assets. Your possessions could be given to distant relatives—even estranged family members, with whom you have had no contact for years.
If the court cannot locate any suitable heirs, California will seize your estate for itself.
Naming Alternative Heirs
Just because you do not have a spouse or children does not mean you cannot have any heirs. California law lets you pass on your material possessions, financial accounts, and real properties to anyone named in a will or revocable living trust.
You can still share your estate and its proceeds with:
- Close friends
- Distant relatives
- A live-in partner
- A preferred charity
- Your business
An estate plan gives you control of your assets and how they will be used, whether you are giving a close friend a home or letting a charity invest your stock portfolio to help feed the hungry or fund cancer research.
But if you do not make any inheritance decisions for yourself, the state of California will assume that responsibility for itself.
Your Estate Plan Can Help Protect You, Too
A comprehensive estate plan does not just protect your assets, wealth, and values: it protects you, too. Even if you are single and do not have children, you should still have a contingency plan for worst-case scenarios. What would you do if, for instance, you were involved in a serious car crash that left you incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own?
Even a simple will gives you the power to:
- Grant someone the health care power of attorney, allowing them to make medical decisions on your behalf. If you do not grant anyone the health care power of attorney, your physician will guide your care based on what they believe to be in your best interest. This could mean putting you on life-support indefinitely or cutting you off before you have been given a fighting chance.
- Grant someone the financial power of attorney, allowing them to make financial decisions on your behalf. If you are sick or fall into cognitive decline, you can let a trusted friend or confidante access your accounts and manage your funds, so that your business and livelihood are not endangered in the meantime.
If you believe that at some point you may require special care or assisted living services, you can even establish a special trust to responsibly provide for your care when you are no longer in a position to live independently.
How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help
An estate planning attorney will help you review your existing estate plan, as well as the totality of your assets, including financial accounts, material possessions, and real properties. We use our understanding of California estate and probate law to ensure that your plan aligns with your goals, values, and aspirations.
Do You Need To Speak With An Attorney About Estate Planning?
If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.