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Keep loved ones away from probate, employ a proper estate plan

Family life is evolving; indeed, it appears to have been rapidly changing for quite some time. From divorced and remarried families -- also referred to as blended families -- to cohabitating couples, the face of California families is perhaps very different than what it was generations ago. So-called non-traditional families are more likely to end up in probate, where a person's estate is not entirely in clear hands.

According to California state law, when a person passes away without any type of will, the closest living relative will receive that person's estate. While this seems quite sensible at first glance, it can prove troublesome for some. Cohabitating couples -- those who purposely choose to shirk marriage while still committing to one another -- are especially vulnerable to this law.

For instance, consider a childless cohabitating couple where neither party has any type of estate plan or clear plan for what should occur in the event of one's death. If one party unexpectedly dies, his or her estate would revert to the next closest blood-relative, not a long-term partner. This could be a parent, sibling or, in some instances, even an aunt or cousin. Some families might be earnest to respect a deceased loved one's relationship by bringing the surviving partner into the process, but others find themselves locked into battles in probate court.

No matter why a couple chooses to remain unmarried, it is still necessary to employ strategic legal protections. Typically, an estate in California that is not outlined by a will must pass through probate court, where a person's last wishes might not be respected. Furthermore, the lack of clear directions can pit family members and long-time partners against one another as they battle to take control of an estate.

Source: gcdailyworld.com, "Non-Traditional Households Require Special Planning", Jan. 25, 2016

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