Research suggests that many Americans have taken the steps necessary to ensure that their estate planning needs are adequately met. In fact, one study asserts that as many as 71percent of individuals have not addressed the creation of wills or trusts. Many in California and elsewhere hold false assumptions concerning how their assets would be handled upon their death, and the result of such misbeliefs could be a long and difficult probate process for those who are left behind.
When asked, approximately 20 percent of respondents stated that they believed that their assets would immediately pass to their spouse or surviving family at the time of their death. This is not accurate, however, and overlooks the issue of probate. This is the legal process by which a court determines how assets should pass on when an individual dies intestate, or absent a will.
State laws vary, but in a general sense, the probate process will result in one's spouse receiving all assets. If there is no surviving spouse, children are next in line, followed by parents, siblings, and then on to extended family members such as nieces and nephews. This may be in line with the wishes of some individuals, but it is often not the distribution of assets that may have been intended.
For example, if an individual has children and later remarries, passing away without a will in place could mean the unintentional disinheriting of one's children. In addition, not only will the spouse inherit assets such as cash, investments and other financial instruments, all of the decedent's personal belongings will also pass to the spouse. If there is not a good relationship between children and their stepparent, the result can be the loss of many sentimental items that could have been cherished and passed down to grandchildren.
The best way to ensure that an individual's wishes are carried out upon his or her death is to create a will. These legally binding documents will allow the family to avoid the probate process, which is both stressful and time-consuming. Assets and belongings can be passed down to the intended recipients in the manner that one intends. Even though drafting wills and trusts may be an uncomfortable proposition for many in California, the benefits make it well worth the time and effort.
Source: nowitcounts.com, "Estate Planning Tips", Michael Lazar, Jan. 30, 2015