What is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning means more than simply preparing a last Will and Testament, it is the means by which your estate is preserved during your lifetime and distributed according to your wishes upon your passing. The term “estate planning” involves more than providing for the disposition of your assets upon your death with a minimum amount of taxation. 

A comprehensive estate plan must also provide for the utilization and protection of assets during your lifetime and for decision-making in the event of a disabling illness.

A complete estate plan includes a comprehensive system of documents typically including a living trust agreement, last will and testament, durable health care power of attorney which nominates an agent who will be responsible for medical decision making, a durable financial power of attorney which nominates an agent to be responsible for asset management, bill paying and other financial activities – and that’s where the Law Office of Charles Staveley can help.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you die without a will or trust, you are considered to have died “intestate,” and each state has laws that determine the beneficiaries of a resident of the state who dies intestate. These are known as the laws of “intestate succession.” Many individuals who die without wills are not subject to such laws if they have set up their estates so they pass by right of survivorship or by beneficiary designations.

In California, if you die without a will, trust, or other means of transferring ownership, your estate will be passed along according to specific rules. (In the following examples, “children” includes adopted as well as biological children.)

  • If you are survived by your children, but no spouse, your children inherit 100% of your estate.
  • If you are survived by your spouse, but you have no children, siblings, or parents, 100% goes to your spouse.
  • If you are survived by your parents, but you have no children, spouse or siblings, your parents inherit 100%.
  • If you are survived by your siblings, but you have no children, spouse, or parents, 100% goes to your siblings.
  • If you are survived by your spouse and children, 100% of your community property goes to your spouse. If you have 1 child, your spouse and your child each receive ½ of your separate property. If you have more than 1 child, your spouse receives 1/3 of your separate property, and your children share equally in the remaining 2/3.
  • If you are survived by your spouse and parents, your spouse inherits 100% of your community property, and 1/2 of your separate property. Your parents inherit the other 1/2 of your separate property.
  • If you are survived by a spouse and siblings but no parents or children, your spouse inherits 100% of your community property, and 1/2 of your separate property. Your siblings inherit the other 1/2 of your separate property.
  • If you have no legal heirs your estate escheats to the State of California.

While the laws of intestate succession determine who your beneficiaries will be, a probate is required if the estate is $150,000 or above. The process of distribution is far more complex, expensive, and time consuming than if a trust were executed.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Pabst and Staveley at (818) 957-8800.