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What happens when you don't have a California estate plan?

The totality of what you own is your estate. Sometimes, Los Angeles residents feel assets don't need estate planning attention until later in life. After all, when you're a young California adult, a lot of what you earn is burned up in expenses like college tuition, buying a vehicle or getting married.

It can take time before a person begins to think seriously about wealth building, much less asset distribution. Almost everybody owns something of value, whether it's a marketable asset like a home or a sentimental treasure. Estate planning makes you think about the people who will have your possessions, after you can no longer enjoy them.

Estate plans also serve other purposes. For instance, wills designate who receives your non-investment assets. If you're a parent, a will can spell out who should care for your minor children. Without a will, a probate court will make these decisions, which may not align with what you had in mind.

Estate planning documents are designed to make asset transfers as stress-free as possible for heirs and beneficiaries. Again, you have to consider what would happen without taking the time to create proper legal documents. It's likely your heirs would lose some of their rightful inheritance to court costs and legal fees, devoted to straightening out your open-ended estate.

You don't have to be a senior citizen to suffer incapacity. Illnesses and accidents can deprive you of the ability to manage your own medical decisions or financial affairs. Estate planning documents like powers of attorney cover this territory for people of any age.

Estate planning offers something that lack of estate planning does not. You gain control over what happens to the things that you've worked an entire lifetime to own. Few people want a stranger in a courtroom to make choices for them, but that's exactly what could happen without legal plans for your possessions.

Source: Noozhawk, "Craig Allen: It’s Never Too Early to Start the Financial Planning Process" Craig Allen, Jan. 19, 2014

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