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Los Angeles Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

What happens when someone you love dies without a will?

Many people put off creating a last will or estate plan as long as they can, often until they approach retirement or start worrying about who will care for their children. Unfortunately, many people every year pass away without having any instructions regarding how their possessions and estate should be handled in the event of their death.

For family members, loved ones and others close to the deceased, realizing that there was no last will can be quite frustrating. In the state of California, those who die intestate (without a will) risk possessions and other assets getting distributed in a manner that doesn't reflect their wishes. Their loves ones, especially intimate partners not bound legally by marriage, could end up in a very precarious situation.

Here's why you need an estate plan, even if you're young and poor

If you're in your 20s, you're likely paying off student loan debt, perhaps trying to save up for a better car or even a home and navigating your first job out of college. Likely, the last thing you're thinking about is estate planning. However, you should be.

Estate planning isn't just for people who have boats, beach houses and millions of dollars in assets to bequeath to their loved ones. Estate planning documents let you give people authority to handle decisions about your health care and to take care of your financial obligations like bills and loan payments if you become sick or injured and are in a condition that prohibits you from doing so.

Don't forget your legacy when you do your estate planning

When you and your attorney are crafting your estate plan, you're obviously focused on where you want your assets to go after you die -- to family members, non-profit organizations and other beneficiaries. You also need to make important decisions about how to help your heirs avoid probate and what executors to choose for various aspects of your estate.

However, even people who take great care in their estate planning often forget to ask themselves one very important question: What kind of legacy do I want to pass on to my loved ones?

Have you signed a HIPAA release?

Imagine you suffer from a catastrophic health event. Maybe you have a stroke or you get into a car accident that leaves you unconscious and incapacitated. Your sister -- who is the closest person to you -- arrives at the hospital and asks the doctor about your condition and the doctor refuses to give her the information.

In refusing to disclose information, the doctor cites the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. He says to your sister, "I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do. You need to go to the court and get the proper authority before I can share your brother's medical information with you."

What can I do to ensure that my living trust is honored?

One of the main reasons individuals elect to set up a living trust is to ensure that their assets can be passed on to their loved ones per their wishes without having to go through probate.

Setting up one can also serve as an easier way for an individual to manage his or her assets if he or she becomes incapacitated. It also can ensure that the beneficiaries of the trust maintain a certain decorum long after you're gone in order to continue receiving payouts from it.

Avoiding the legal perils of leaving money to caregivers

Many people who are old and/or sick rely on non-family caregivers in the later years of their lives. Not surprisingly, they often want to remember these people in their will.

However, if other family members weren't aware of what a special bond their loved one had with a caregiver and weren't kept up-to-date on the provisions of that loved one's will, they might reasonably believe that the beneficiary exerted undue influence to get the will changed. They might even suspect that their family member's signature was forged or coerced.

Marrriott heir claims he's been cut off for divorcing

Nearly everyone here in Southern California has stayed at a Marriott hotel at some point. The Marriott company is the world's largest publicly-traded hotel chain. However, all is not well with the family behind it.

John Marriott III is alleging that his father has forced him out of the business and has taken away his trust fund and essentially disowned him. He says that these actions were taken because he divorced his wife two years ago. The Marriotts are Mormons. That's a religion in which divorce is strongly discouraged.

Consider these things as you choose a guardian

As we grow older, there comes a time when it is wise to consider giving another person the authority to make important legal and financial decisions on our behalf. These individuals may have a variety of duties, depending on the needs of the person they serve, and may go by a number of titles denoting their specific obligations and privileges. For the sake of brevity, we'll address legal guardianship.

When you begin considering who should serve as your guardian, it is important to understand the kind of person who is likely to serve you well. Should you allow emotional factors or pre-existing relationships to carry too much weight as you consider your options, you may choose a guardian who does not fully meet your needs, or who may use your resources unfairly.

Secure and appraise art collections during the probate process

If you are an estate administrator tasked with the probate of an estate involving a large, expensive art collection, there are certain things that must be done in order to preserve harmony among the beneficiaries.

Paintings, sculptures and other artwork can have great sentimental as well as financial value. While not negating any of the sentimental value for the beneficiaries, estate administrators must concern themselves primarily with the market value of the collection as a whole and for each individual piece as well.

Keeping your estate plan current is essential

Having an estate plan is wise for those who want to ensure that their wishes for the dispensation of their assets are carried out after their death. With an estate plan, you can also designate who will make decisions regarding legal, financial and health matters for you if you are unable to do these things for yourself.

Business owners should have a particular interest in having an estate plan in place in order to ensure that their business transfers to the person(s) they choose after death and that it continues to run as they would like regardless of what happens to them.

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